One of this year’s most highly anticipated releases, Malibu Rising by Taylor Jenkins Reid hit stores this month. Loosely linked to both of TJR’s previous smash hits, The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo and Daisy Jones and the Six, Malibu Rising continues her theme of exploring the inner lives of the rich and famous; showing us what is really going on behind all of those glossy magazine shoots.
Malibu Rising is the story of the Riva siblings, Nina, Jay, Hud and Kit. Their father is Mick Riva, the famous singer who was one of Evelyn Hugo’s seven husbands, and their mother is June, a woman from Malibu whose parents own the local fish and chip shop. Told in alternating sections that switch between the four siblings’ points of view, and in flashbacks from that of their mother June, the novel explores the true cost of Mick’s fame (and bad behaviour) on his family.
As the four children deal with Mick’s repeated abandonment of their mother, and June’s resulting alcoholism, the roles they are forced into as children will ultimately influence the kinds of adults that they will become. Over the course of 24 hours – leading up to and during the annual Riva party at adult Nina’s house – these roles will be questioned and the hurts they are all holding onto may need to be left behind.
Malibu Rising doesn’t quite live up to the promise of Evelyn Hugo, and this is solely because it is focussed on a cast of characters. The reader has to split their focus between Nina, Jay, Hud, Kit, and June, often switching back and forth between them in short spaces of time. On top of this, as the party kicks off in the second half of the book, vignettes are added to contribute to the sense of sheer scale for the party.
So we see actors behaving badly, smoking weed on the tennis courts and swinging from chandeliers, all the while an omniscient narrator is telling us things such as the fact that the person they are meant to spend the rest of their lives with is actually sitting in the front yard. Again, this splits the audience’s focus and distracts from the issues facing the Riva’s. At times, it feels like padding for a story that is running out of steam.
Of all of the Riva children, it is Nina who is the most well developed and comes closest to being someone to root for. She struggles to be taken seriously as a woman when the only way to make money is to model as a surfer girl (but is not actually being able to surf much, however, even though she loves it.) Nina has had to grow up quickly as the eldest and has had to sacrifice a lot in order to give her siblings a good life. She is a kind person, but bad things keep happening to her.
I related to her strongly, particularly as she lived her life according to what she felt she should be doing, rather than what would actually make her happy. I think Reid writes this kind of woman extremely well. But, the ease with which Nina is able to escape her problems thanks to her wealth made her less relatable as the story went on, and this is something that is common to Reid’s work, given that she writes about famous characters.
Setting was also particularly strong in this book, with both Malibu and the 1980s coming to life on the page. From the fashion to the vehicles, the music, the descriptions of the beach and the surf, the book was extremely summery – a good thing, as it’s being touted as the perfect beach read. Though perhaps not if you’re living in Australia where the temperature is dropping rapidly.
I think Taylor Jenkins Reid fans will be enjoy this addition to her universe, and enjoy picking up on all the easter eggs hidden in the text, but for me, nothing can beat the magic of Evelyn Hugo.